Commenting on Government plans to address post-pandemic absence rates with targeted support for schools, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
“Government intentions to support schools further around attendance are welcome but the plans for attendance hubs do not go far enough in tackling the real issues that school leaders and SENCOs tell us prevent many young people from attending school. A large percentage of the young people who are regularly missing school have undiagnosed SEND or mental health conditions, are awaiting diagnosis or are on waiting lists for further support from specialist professionals.
“Schools do take early intervention measures but when issues escalate, and specialist input is needed the current wait times are too long to prevent young people reaching a crisis point which in many cases prevents them accessing school. Until this issue is resolved no number of fines imposed on parents will improve school attendance. For most of the young people experiencing anxiety and mental health breakdown the school environment itself is the problem. It is not that they won't attend school but that in psychological terms they cannot attend. It is therefore, fundamentally, the issues of curriculum, assessment and timely access to specialist support which need to be addressed.
“Measures such as an absence code for mental ill-health and for students awaiting external support are badly needed. They should be introduced, alongside the encouragement of an inclusive approach to well-being which promotes belonging across the school community. Fines and punitive approaches to behaviour are not the answer: there is no evidence to prove they are successful in reintegrating students.”